A scientific explanation for folklore?

Here’s something to ponder in those long, quiet hours before Doctor Who is on. I’m reading an excellent book at the moment called The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May.

This is the start of quite a long series (The Saga of the Exiles) and it includes another reworking of the myth that somewhere in the background, or mythos, or folklore, or whatever you want to call it, of our culture are certain archetypes that we return to again and again.

In the case of May it’s the faerie/elf/sprite variety versus the dwarf/troll/goblin lot. She does a magnificent job of moving this on past the kind of sub-Tolkienesque stuff that we all, as readers, find so tedious by rendering the archetypes in a completely different way.

Her creations are two different genetic expressions of the same race of dislocated aliens who have colonised Earth after their living spaceship located it as the best match for their biological requirements. This, as I understand it happened several million years in the past so the aliens are long gone before modern humanity evolves (this is not actually true, but I can’t explain the real situation without embroiling us waist-deep in spoilers and typing out paragraphs of text.) However, they remain in the folk memory and in oral tradition.

Having this in the back of my mind, I came across the story below from BBC News, which suggests a genetic split in the early human population. And it struck me that this is another excellent way of explaining the persistence of this particular set of myths and legends and their appeal to our psyche.

It’s not something that’s going away any time soon, either – the tradition is still alive and well in Terry Pratchett (you might say that’s a pastiche, or just another way of the same material being re-invented) and the Exiles books were themselves written fairly recently, with the first volume published in the early 1980s.

Interesting stuff. Here’s the article that prompted all this:

Human line ‘nearly split in two’

Ancient humans started down the path of evolving into two separate species before merging back into a single population, a genetic study suggests.

The genetic split in Africa resulted in distinct populations that lived in isolation for as much as 100,000 years, the scientists say.

This could have been caused by arid conditions driving a wedge between humans in eastern and southern Africa.

Details have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

It would be the longest period for which modern human populations have been isolated from one another.

But other scientists said it was still too early to reconstruct a meaningful picture of humankind’s early history in Africa. They argue that other scenarios could also account for the data. Read full story here…